Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Theatre in Philadelphia
Theater has declined, everywhere in the western world. But in Philadelphia, even today if you attended every new play you would keep pretty busy.

Right Angle Club: 2014
New topic 2013-11-19 20:22:11 description

The Last of the Algonquins

Jon Schau

The Franklin Inn has trouble fitting fifty people in the audience, but it has a long history of members writing little plays for the special interest of its members. The latest was written by Jonathan Schau about Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker, just before they went to Hollywood to try out, and received by the members with great merriment. Just in case anyone was still in doubt about the amount of alcohol being consumed in those days just after Repeal of Prohibition, I felt the urge to rise and tell the audience about an autopsy.

Robert Benchley

In 1945 I was a sophomore medical student at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons, taking the course in Pathology. With a perfectly straight face, Edith Sproul the professor of pathology introduced us to an autopsy of a case of cirrhosis. The pathology classroom was not very different from the one at the University of Bologna which has been restored in Italy after unnamed pilots bombed the original into smithereens. But the famous painting of the original shows what it looked like, and the reproductions in Bologna and New York are very similar.

Nobody was indiscreet enough to mention it, but the canary-yellow subject on the table looked very much like Robert Benchley, whom the newspapers said had just died in that hospital. In any event, the subject had the worst looking case of cirrhosis of the liver which I ever hope to see. And in describing it I was surrounded by a club audience, every member of which had a glass in his hand. We don't need a cure for cirrhosis, of course. We have a cure for cirrhosis, perhaps a little more in use than it was in 1945, but not necessarily more popular.

{William Bingham class=}
Algonquin Round Table

While we are on the subject of the Algonquin Round Table, I might as well confess that my father-in-law was an occasional visitor. He wasn't an "official" member of the club, but Alexander Woolcott had been his roommate at college, so he was welcome. Alexander was often, in turn, a visitor at what was my wife's house, and my mother-in-law absolutely detested what she called "a dirty old man", for reasons that were never explained to me. Alexander sprained his ankle while visiting, and it is family lore that the whole episode is central to the play called, "The Man Who Came to Dinner". In fairness to Alexander, I hope the play does as little justice to him, as it did to my mother-in-law.

Originally published: Sunday, June 15, 2014; most-recently modified: Friday, May 31, 2019